Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fidel and I, and a nation unforgiven

[I wrote this on Facebook a year ago, right after Fidel's death, and meant to publish it here, but never did. Reading commemorations from Cuba on the first anniversary of his death, I was struck by several that spoke about Fidel's leading Cuba now, in the present tense, not the past. Then I realized I understood without even thinking about it.]
Fidel: his truth is marching on.
Over the past few days many people have asked me what I thought of Fidel's death. I've done a few press interviews, and to my surprise, I found it difficult to formulate an answer, and I think I've finally figured out why.
I was a 7-year-old Cuban kid from a millionaire family who had no clue everything in his life would be upended by the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
And I was an increasingly rebellious Cuban exile adolescent in Florida in the late 1960s who did not recoil when he realized he was being increasingly attracted to the ideals of Fidel and Che.
I did not realize then, I could not possibly have known, that these circumstances would shape the rest of my life.
Yet they have, and they should not have. That is my reaction to the news about Fidel.
Decades ago, the Cuban revolution --and with it the figure of Fidel Castro-- should have receded from politics into history. It took 20 years, give or take, for the United States to accept the reality of the other great revolutions of the 20th Century, the Russian, the Chinese and Vietnamese. The old disputes were negotiated and settled: "borrón y cuenta nueva," we Cubans say, wipe the slate clean and start over.
But it never happened with Cuba.
Donald Trump will become the twelfth American head of state to preside over the economic blockade Eisenhower initiated as part of the preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Yet the great majority of those that fought at the Bay of Pigs are now dead. Those of us who have even the vaguest childhood memories of those days are now on Medicare. Isn't it time to let go?
It was time to move on decades ago. But we can't. The blockade --the economic war against Cuba-- still goes on. The forcible, violent occupation of part of Cuba's national territory still goes on. And the insistence of the Americans that they --and not Cubans-- have the right to decide Cuba's fate goes on.
What Fidel did was to head the fight for the Cuban people's right to self-determination. That, not socialism, not being pals of the Russians, not helping to wipe South African apartheid from the face of the earth, was his greatest crime.
And that crime could not have been anything but the collective crime of the Cuban Nation. So even a death certificate with his name on it cannot expiate it. And even with his body in ashes he remains in the fight.
Fidel hasn't died because the Americans won't let him. Even now, the United States will not accept that they could not break him, or the Cuban people. And until they do accept it, Fidel will remain part of the fight.
Even in death, he remains unforgiven. The battle he fought, that he dedicated his life to, remains unresolved. His people, the Cuban people, remain undefeated.
Some day I will reflect on Fidel's death, perhaps in mourning of his passing or in celebration of his life. But that day will come when the battle he still leads is won.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The tax cut that's really needed --
but neither party will talk about it

No one --including the Schumer-Pelosi Democrats-- is talking about the one tax cut that should be made as a matter of basic fairness: excluding social security payments from taxable income.

Nancy and Chuck: getting ready to sell out the middle class
Why? Because that money has already been taxed when you earned it and the government took it out of your paycheck. That's true also of the tax on the employer. From the point of view of the company, what "they" pay is simply part of the cost of having you work for them, same as if it appeared on your pay stub. In fact, the main category for company bookkeeping is not "wages" but "payroll" which includes the taxes and the cost of benefits that do not appear on your paycheck stub.

The other part of the social security trust fund are interest payments on the bonds the government theoretically sells the trust fund when it takes social security tax money and uses it for other things, mostly wars and toys for the generals.

But aren't government bonds tax free? Exactly. Rich people pay no federal income tax on the interest from bonds they voluntarily buy from the government, whereas regular people pay tax on the interest from government bonds when the income finally comes to us in the form of social security payments.

And government bonds at all levels have paid much lower interest rates than they would have had to pay if the federal government didn't give itself an automatic "loan" from the social security trust fund.

If Congress is going to talk about cutting taxes, stopping the double taxation of seniors' social security payments should be the first item on their agenda. Social Security payments are way too low anyways: the average is about $1,300 a month, and they are being cut through the "raising the full retirement age" scam.

The first step in fixing social security should be to exclude social security benefits from taxable income.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Puerto Rico is not 'America' -- it is the victim of American colonialism

All the liberals and news commentators keep stressing that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And they bemoan the fact that half or more of the U.S. population doesn't know that. Even Fox News is doing it as it tries to defend Trump's performance.

But there is a reason why so many don't "get" that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. And that reason is, simply, that it is not part of the United States. It is no more part of "America" than India was part of England when the Brits ran the place.

Anyone who has even the slightest acquaintance with Puerto Rico knows it is a different country. It has its own language, culture, traditions, history and above all, a strong sense of identity that even 120 years of American domination have been unable to erase.

That understanding permeates how Puerto Rico is regarded in U.S. culture. It's not that teachers fail to stress enough in high school that it's "Puerto Rico, USA," for when did anyone have to be told to remember that Wyoming is part of "America?" Or New Jersey? Or even Mississippi  (although Phil Ochs made a pretty good case for Mississippi finding itself another country to be part of).

Does this mean that Washington is off the hook for Puerto Rico? No, quite the contrary, the fact that Washington has stripped the people of Puerto Rico of the right to control their own destiny makes it even more responsible. Especially because it has dominated Puerto Rico so that American banks and corporations can loot the place.

In a detailed presentation by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez on the island's public debt crisis, he points to a very simple and devastatingly revealing number -- the difference between Puerto Rico's Gross Domestic Product and its Gross National Product. GDP is how much wealth the island creates. GNP is an indicator of how much it gets to keep.

A handy chart from the Federal Reserve shows that the GNP/GDP ratio went from almost one to one in 1960 to two to three for the last 20 years, in other words, that the island's economy only keeps two-thirds of the value it produces. That's a loss of more than $30 billion a year.

A different, much more conservative method for calculating how much Puerto Rico is losing, which uses Gross National Income (GNI) instead of GNP, shows the island being ripped off to the tune of nearly $20 billion a year.

So when Trump complains about the island's huge public debt or an infrastructure that already was on the verge of collapse, remember that it was American domination that made it so -- and the rebuilding of Puerto Rico should be paid by Washington, not San Juan.

Not because Puerto Ricans are "American," but because despite it being a different country, the United States has lorded it over them and fleeced them for more that 100 years -- and we owe them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Puerto Rico: incompetence, indifference and colonialism

It is going to be a staple of the liberals and the left that the way the United States has allowed Puerto Rico to become a humanitarian catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane María is a result of  incompetence and indifference powered by Trump's racism.

But behind that is a more fundamental cause: Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, and has been since 1898, when Washington wrested it from Spain along with Cuba and the Philippines.

What is a colony? A country that does not govern itself. From its origins the United Nations has had a formal principle against colonialism, but the United States pays it no mind.

In the early 1950s, Washington lied to the U.N. saying that Puerto Rico had become a self-governing "commonwealth," but as recently as June of 2016, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Puerto Rico is an "unincorporated territory." As defined by the court when the United States first acquired the island, Puerto Rico is a place that belongs to, but is not part of, the United States.

Congress exercises unlimited power over Puerto Rico. It can do whatever it wants, can (and does) create special laws that apply only to Puerto Rico, and even the constitutional rights of American citizens can be ignored.

Congress just did that a year ago, refusing to let it file for judicial protection under the bankruptcy laws (unlike every other jurisdiction under the U.S. flag), and instead imposing a seven-member banker's junta to dictate budgets and policies to the island's government.

(Puerto Rican journalist Juan González gave a major speech a year ago going into detail on how U.S. colonial domination has bled Puerto Rico, driving the country into an unending depression, massive emigration to the United States, and bankruptcy).

Puerto Ricans have no say in what the United States does with their country. They do not vote for President. There are no Senators from Puerto Rico, nor any members of the House of Representatives either, just a non-voting "resident commissioner" who is little more than a glorified lobbyist.

There is only one way Congress can surrender its unlimited power over Puerto Rico, which is to transfer Puerto Rican sovereignty to someone else, just as Spain transferred it to the United States in 1898. Congress should renounce its authority, allowing the people of Puerto Rico to determine the island's future, including its future relationship with the United States.

Right now all sorts of politicians and journalists are saying that Puerto Rico is part of the United States but that is not true, strictly speaking: it is a separate, distinct country, but one that the United States owns.

But you will also hear politicians --especially Puerto Rican ones who are aware of the reality-- arguing on behalf of the island by saying Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. That is true, but by a 1917 act of Congress, and not the Fourteenth Amendment which was adopted after the Civil War and makes citizens "All persons born or naturalized in the United States." Under the law, people born on the island do not do so "in the United States."

At least until the last few days, half of the U.S. population did not even know that Puerto Ricans were American citizens. And it's not just racism, but the obvious, self-evident fact that Puerto Rico is a different country (combined with the encyclopedic ignorance produced by American schooling).

There is a reason for Washington's indifference to what had happened in Puerto Rico, especially evident in the first week after María. It is the indifference of a colonial power towards a country it has conquered.

Bury my heart in Old San Juan

Hurricane María brought home that Puerto Rico played a special role in my life. Decades ago, that is where I learned what colonialism means -- not in a legal description or economic treatise, but on the ground, in real life.

Published in 1976
In the early 1970s, barely out of my teens, I was living in "Loisaida" (New York's Lower East Side) and visited Puerto Rico multiple times, including an almost continuous longer stay, interrupted by some visits back. I was working for a socialist newspaper sponsored by one of the largest left groups in the United States and also trying to build bridges between my group and the Puerto Rican independence movement.

That past made the coverage of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of María gut wrenching in a way I did not expect. Hearing the names of places once so familiar --Carolina, Río Piedras, Aguadilla, Ponce, Mayagüez-- brought back memories and feelings I didn't know were still inside me.

And talking about the island on the daily talk show I co-host on Radio Información more than once brought me to tears -- tears of sadness, yes, but mostly tears of rage.

I am learning again what colonialism means.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bullshit alert: the non-existing grand bargain on immigration and DACA

The headline on the Telemundo web site says it all: "Trump announces agreement with Democrats on DACA."

The only problem is that Trump hasn't announced a damn thing. It was Pelosi and Schumer (the top House and Senate Democrats) who announced a no-details supposed deal after a cozy White House dinner with Herr Trump.
Two things:

  • Thing one: When there really is an agreement, both sides announce it jointly. And there are details that have been written down and signed by the parties.
  • Thing two: We've already seen this movie. And we know how it comes out: with the undocumented and their communities getting screwed.
It's time to stop playing Charley Brown
For 16 years the DREAM Act to legalize people brought to the United States as minors has been kicked around in Congress. It is the obvious legislative solution: DACA was a stop-gap measure because Obama had failed to get the DREAM Act approved in Congress and he wanted Latino votes in the 2012 election.
Since the Latino immigrant rights mega-marches of 2006, it's been rolled into various proposals for "comprehensive immigration reform,” supposedly a "grand bargain" that would grant legalization in exchange for "border security" (meaning militarization and repression).
And what has been the result? Nothing, nada, zip, zero.
Except millions of deportations, hundreds of thousands of families broken up, and God knows how many deaths in the badlands and deserts of the Southwest.
And except for the 2006 bill that extended the physical barriers along the and used to be called a fence but has now become a "wall," on account of Trump.
That's the law Trump is using as authorization for his "new" wall (mostly the old "fence" that is already there).
The 2006 law (supported by both Hillary Clinton and Obama) supposedly was a "down payment" to the racists. But it never, ever got the corresponding concession of legalization that had been promised.

Not in 2006. Not in the 2007-2008 Congress when the Democrats won both Houses. Not in 2009-2010 when the Democrats had control of both Houses, a super-majority in the Senate so they could do whatever they wanted, and Obama in the White House. Not in ...
Well, you get the picture. It reminds me of the "Peanuts" comic strip, where Lucy is always taking away the football just when Charley Brown is about to kick it.
It’s time to tell our Democrat “friends:“ been there, done that, and we’re not doing it anymore.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thomson Reuters is helping ICE find immigrants targeted for deportation

The parent company of the Reuters News Agency has a hitherto little-known relationship providing private, personal information on immigrants targeted by the U.S. government's deportation machinery.

Data mercenaries own the Reuters News Agency
The relationship is revealed in a Request for Information from the government to private contractors that might be able to provide a "continuous monitoring and alert system" that handles: "FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; Vehicle Registration Information; property information; pay day loan information;  public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records."

A Response to Questions document published in conjunction with the request says, "this service is currently being provided by Thomson Reuters Special Services, LLC." It also says that "CLEAR and other Thomson Reuters data services" are the ones being used now to "aggregate data from."

The Thomson Reuters web site describes CLEAR this way:

  • CLEAR is the next-generation online investigative platform designed specifically to meet unique needs of investigative customers....
  • CLEAR makes it easier to locate people, assets, businesses, affiliations, and other critical facts. With its vast collection of public and proprietary records, investigators are able to dive deep into their research and uncover hard to find data.

The details of the offer are a police state nightmare:

    Billions of cell phone, landline, TracFone, business, and VoIP records delivered in real-time ensure your phone searches bring back comprehensive results
    Real-time booking information from more than 2,200 facilities and from the most complete network of 90 million historical arrest records and intake photos
    Live access to more than 6 billion license plate scans from Vigilant Solutions® to make data driven connections to discover the “who” in an investigation
    See where the data came from, when it was supplied, and who supplied it 

The documents were brought to light by the Center for Investigative Reporting in an article detailing Immigration and Custom Enforcement's request for information on a program to outsource data collection on 500,000 people a month.

The current relationship with Thomson Reuters is revealed in very fine print toward the end of the Q&A document.

This relation by another division of the same company is an unacceptable conflict of interest for a news organization. It is receiving money (for whatever reason) from one side in a controversy it covers

And this isn't just any controversy, but one that affects many millions of people, an issue that was the signature theme of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Reuters news service has never disclosed the conflict.

And the relationship is the absolute worst, providing information on immigrants targeted by ICE.

This places the immigrant rights movement, Latino groups and progressive organizations in the very uncomfortable position of having to bar Reuters reporters and camera crews from their events.

Why? Because Reuters provides intelligence services to ICE (and as it turns out, other police agencies). You wouldn't welcome FBI and ICE agents with microphones and cameras to your events, would you? And if you discovered that one had snuck in, you'd tell them to leave.

It is not a question of the integrity of individual reporters or editors, or even the news division as a whole. The material Reuters gathers as a news organization --for example, video footage of a confrontation between undocumented activists and white supremacists-- belongs to the parent organization and there is no way a reporter could stop it from being handed to the cops, or even discover that this had been done surreptitiously.

I've been a journalist for four and a half decades and can't recall another case like this involving what has been generally considered a reputable news organization.

Journalists have ethical obligations, not just to confidential sources, but to people we come across in our coverage. We are allowed privileged access to all sorts of events and situations and the implicit commitment that comes from asking for that access is that it will be used for reporting and only for reporting. Right now there is no way a Reuters journalist can assume that commitment.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Press freedom in Mexico: record number of murders, no coverage

June 21, 7:00 PM -- Listening to NPR there was a very short item that caught my attention: the month of May saw the highest number of homicides in Mexico of any month in 20 years.

So preparing material for tomorrow's edition of "Hablemos con Teodoro," the 2-hour news and commentary show that I produce and second-fiddle host on radioinformacion.org, I did a Google news search in Spanish.

I found one (count 'em: 1), just one story -- on the web site of El Heraldo from the city of Saltillo in northern México, which is at the center of a metro area of 800,000 people.

The story was from XINHUA, the official press service of the People's Republic of China.

I did the same search in English and found stories in at least a dozen web sites, some from Reuters, others from AP.

The English-language stories made clear that they said it was the bloodiest May in 20 years because earlier figures were not available.

I suspect that simply means that figures from the pre-Internet era are not online, and this may well be the bloodiest May ever or at least going back many decades.

This is what happens when you have six journalists murdered so far this year, and more than 100 in this century, and hundreds of other attacks on the media, in addition to the spying that the New York Times revealed on Monday. And a grand total of three of these crimes have been solved. Three.

By tomorrow morning I'm sure, a few more outlets, perhaps many, will cover the story. But first there will be panicked conversations in the offices of editors and publishers:

"We have to have it -- it's too important to ignore.
"Agreed, but let's not be among the first -- the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered
"Perhaps Televisa will have it tonight ...

Of course, it will be different in those areas where newspapers and TV stations have announced they simply will not cover crime news, because to do so is suicide.

Friday, June 9, 2017

CNN bans not 'respectful' dissent, just the contempt Trump deserves

First it was Kathy Griffin. Now it's Reza Aslan. Coincidence that it was a woman and now someone of Persian heritage? If you really believe that, I want some of whatever it is you've been smoking. The issue is Trump and "respect" for the office of the presidency. Trump is beneath contempt, and so is "the office of the president" with him in it. But you can't express that and be on CNN. You can't treat Trump as the vulgar, lying, misogynist, racist, and authoritarian piece of shit he is and be on CNN. Tens of millions of people in the United States look at Trump just that way, but don't look for that point of view on CNN, nor on any other TV network, nor in any daily newspaper, nor in any "serious" web site devoted to news or analysis of current affairs. You can't say this guy is a flaming asshole. Even if you use nicer words or a pun. CNN says it's not censorship. They're open to all points of view. You can say you disagree with Trump, even that you think he is totally bonkers. Just don't call him an asshole, or hold up a decapitated plastic replica of his head dripping with blood, even though that represents exactly what he is doing to civilians in Syria and elsewhere, even children. You can disagree, but not disrespect. But after roughly a half century thinking and writing about politics and protests, if there's one thing I've learned is that tone and attitude are usually way more important than your "position" or "program." Because politics at bottom is not about policies but about different social forces and the interaction, jostling and clashes between them. Your stance expresses that much better than a position paper. The group that *respectfully* disagrees with the "our" president's executive order may be against Trump's muslim ban like I am. But if that is their real attitude, of respectful disagreement with "our" president, then they are at most frenemies. Attitude is what you are not allowed to express on CNN, or even appear on CNN if you've expressed it in another venue. The funny thing is that CNN is still fighting hard to become America's Pravda. I don't think they'll ever wake up to the fact that Trump already has Breitbart and the Daily Stormer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Condemn Kathy Griffin? No way

CNN cut ties with Kathy Griffin because she disrespected The President. But I'm with her. Because you can't disrespect someone who is beneath contempt.

As for the bloody severed head ...
And no bloody jokes about our dear, great, respected and
beloved leader Comrade ... I mean President Donald Trump
Kathy Griffin's was just plastic.
But the real thing is what Trump endorsed with his love-fest in Saudi Arabia. They're about to execute by decapitation a young man tortured into confessing that he took part in an anti-government protest. Protesting is a capital offense. Even if you didn't do it.

We should not be aghast at Kathy Griffin, but at the bestial and barbaric House of Saud.

But even more we should be aghast at the United States, at ourselves. Just last Thursday and Friday, American bombs killed more than 100 civilians including at least 42 children, in the Syrian town of Mayadeen.

And like good Germans, we condemn Kathy Griffin.

And then we wonder where the depravity of the Portland white supremacist murderer comes from.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bullshit mountain: North Korea created the Wannacry virus?

In Arthur Penn's classic 1970 movie Little Big Man, Allardyce Merriweather tries to teach Dustin Hoffman's title character the honorable profession of snake oil salesman:
Listen to me, a two legged creature will believe anything, and the more preposterous the better: whales speak French at the bottom of the sea. The horses of Arabia have silver wings. Pygmies mate with elephants in darkest Africa. I have sold all those propositions. 
Well, I've got one that's even better: North Korea was behind's last Friday's computer virus attack.

Just think about the proposition: why would North Korea do that? To get a few thousand dollars in bitcoin? To piss off everyone in the world even more against them? Why???

But there's an even bigger problem. North Korea has neither the technology nor the culture that would allow it to develop a hacker attack team.

Hacking --first and foremost in its original meaning-- is a playful fascination with technology and how it can be shaped, shifted and re-used for other ends. It starts with neither science nor an art but an attitude. It has contempt for formalities, walls and barriers, it loves breaking rules, or even better, gaming them so they become irrelevant.

That culture developed on a large scale in the United States with the baby boom generation. The first product of the two Steves --Wozniak and Jobs-- who gave us Apple computer was a little box that allowed people to make free long-distance phone calls, at a time when the AT&T government imposed monopoly extorted you for the equivalent of $11 for a three minute call to a town 150 miles away. And yeah, it was illegal, a crime. The little box, I mean, not the monopoly.

But in addition to that sort of attitude, you need other things, an area where the technology is available to play with and where you have mentors to get you started. You had that especially in the Northern California and Boston areas in the 1960s and early 70s, which were also centers of the youth rebellion and counterculture, and where the personal computer and Internet were born.

Now consider North Korea's Internet prowess. 
  • Of the more than 4 billion Internet addresses, North Korea has laid claim to 1,024. 
  • Of the more than one billion web sites in the world, North Korea boasts 28. 
  • The Falkland Islands has a population of 2800. North Korea, 25 million, 9,000 times as many. The Falkland Islands has twice the Internet traffic that North Korea does.
Two things:
  • Thing one: North Korea doesn't have enough infrastructure so you could learn how to hack
  • Thing two: The North Korean government is so paranoid you'd end up in prison if you tried
And hacking --whether white hat or black-- is not something you study in college. It is creative, akin to an art form or smuggling whiskey in the 1920s.

Now, some stories say it was North Korea, but operating from China. But why would the government that runs the Great Firewall of China be interested in letting North Korea fuck up tens of thousands of its own computers? And perhaps set off another demented demand from Trump?

The scientific principle of Occam's razor says the simplest answer is usually the right one.

This attack was built on a virus that someone stole from the National Security Agency. (How could this happen? Because you need hackers to develop the viruses in the first place. And see what I said about hacker culture above.) 

The attack was (allegedly) offered for sale and (supposedly) delivered via the Internet in mid-April.

I don't think your need to write a Cold War spy thriller for this one.

Well ... except for "one more thing," as Steve Jobs used to say. 

The attack was incredibly easy to bring to a screeching halt.

Why would genuine black hat hacker-criminals put that kill switch into their code? That sounds to me like something that someone who had a different objective than collecting ransom money would do.
Suppose, for example, you were a spy agency. And suppose you wanted to plant some really nasty spying hack. Why not create a virus epidemic as cover and to distract people from what you are doing. But won't people suspect it is you? Not if the virus was already "stolen."

Sure, five million or fifty million people might be affected but you only want to make sure the five or fifty you have especially targeted get it. As for the rest, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Sorry about that, British hospital patients.

I'm not saying I'm certain that's what happened but it is a lot more credible than saying it was the work of a mighty army of North Korean hackers.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ridiculous Trump scandal du jour: he gave the Russkies state secrets

Hyperventilating like they just ran a 4-minute mile, the gasbags on CNN, NPR, PBS, and the rest of the alphabet soup are aghast at what the Washington Post just revealed: Last Friday Trump gave the Russians information so secret that it has a "burn before reading" classification (or something like that).

The original version of the Trump-Putin plot 
The Washington Post, which broke the story, says the info revealed to Russia is that the Islamic State is planning to use a laptop bomb on an airplane. Worse, Trump mentioned a city.

Since the United States and the Brits banned the use of laptops on airplanes from certain cities in the Middle East, this was hardly a secret. It was chickenfeed. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, watch the insanely great Cold War spy thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy featuring Alec Guinness as George Smiley).

Anyways, telling the Russian supposedly endangers out relations in getting info out of the country that ratted out the Islamic State. But does anyone seriously think that Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or anyone else in the region that cooperates with and relies on the United States is going to sanction Trump?

Yesterday, Amy Goodman had Watergate-era congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman on Democracy Now accusing Trump of treason. Speaking about the firing of Comey, she said:
What was on his mind when he fired him? The Russian investigation.... And stopping that could mean that we have in place a president of the United States in cahoots with the Russian government at this very moment.
This is just one more variation on the Trump-Putin "collusion" that must be investigated. Collusion to do what? To "meddle." What was the meddling? No one can say.

  • Moscow gold didn't put trump in the White House because he spent much less than Hillary and has plenty of his own money. 
  • There's no accusation of voting machine rigging or ballot stuffing. 
  • The charge that Russia leaked stuff from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign is built on the assumption that the KGB are such idiots they'd rather leak to Assange than the New York Times or Washington Post. Almost certainly at least the DNC stuff came from a lone wolf insider. And at any rate, that was not "meddling" but a public service.
  • RT using its tremendous influence on American public opinion to get Trump elected is absurd, because it has no influence. And anyways, it's free speech.
  • Finally, Russia is engaged in its most sinister tactic, discrediting American "democracy." As if it needed any more discrediting than the last presidential election, crowned by having the guy who lost by three million votes is proclaimed the winner.

The truth is the Democrats have been trying to whip up a McCarthyite hysteria that Trump is a Russian stooge since before his inauguration, but have been unable to come up with a single concrete act of meddling or shred of proof.

And from everything we know about the Donald's personality and history, the idea that he is Putin's stooge is absurd.He may be an idiot, but he's nobody's fool.

On the other hand, the Democrat Nomenklatura has every interest in diverting attention away from their own catastrophic performance since 2010, crowned by their inability to beat the most unpopular presidential candidate since polling was invented.

They use this to cover up their craven obeisance to Wall Street and other big money who finance their campaigns and on behalf of whom they betray the interests of working people.

But what happened to Medicare for All? Fight for Fifteen? Free tuition to Public Colleges? An end to big money meddling in elections? Can't have that, say the Pelosis, Schumers and Clintons of this world. "We have to appeal to 'centrist' voters." And, oh yeah, expose Russian "meddling."

Friday, May 12, 2017

The NY Times channels Joe McCarthy

Innuendo, guilt-by-association smears, loaded questions -- all the time honored elements of a good, old-fashioned American witch-hunt are back ... and in this Friday's lead editorial in the New York Times!

The  guiding spirit
Since the beginning of the year, the liberal media has been partying like its 1954, with a full fledged anti-Russia hysteria worthy of tail-gunner Joe himself.

The editorial is full of damning accusations: Did you know that Trump held the Miss Universe contest in Russia? Yes, he did! And worse ... "Mr. Trump met more than a dozen of the country’s most prominent oligarchs while he was there." What an outrage!

And then there's Michael Flynn. The retired lieutenant general is accused of giving a paid speech for Russian government backed media outlet RT. And worse ...  "On the same trip, he sat next to President Vladimir Putin at an RT gala."

Businessman Carter Page, "a foreign policy adviser" the Times says, although in fact he holds no such government position, "gave a pro-Russia speech in Moscow in July 2016." And worse ... "Page was once employed by Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office, where he worked with Gazprom, a government-owned energy giant."

This is the evidence marshaled by a New York Times editorial before delivering the sockdolager: "the known facts suggest an unusually extensive network of relationships with a major foreign power."

And thus, "Anyone who cares about the credibility of the American electoral process should want a thorough investigation of whether and how Russia interfered in the election and through whom."

Which begs the question: Wall Street is much more important than mere elections, shouldn't we be investigating instead whether and how the Kremlin gamed the Dow Jones?

And what about Russian ties to fluoride?

The Times even tries the old trick of admitting it is all bullshit to discount the objection that it is all bullshit: "Mr. Trump and his associates can cry themselves hoarse that there is neither smoke nor fire here."

But of course, there is lots of smoke here: the smoke the editors of the New York Times are trying to blow up our ass.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

From the archives: Time's "Person of the Century" Einstein coverup

[Seeing a picture of Albert Einstein featured on the Facebook page of my libertarian friend Jorge El Malo reminded me I've been meaning to repost this. I originally wrote it on December 28, 1999, four days before the end of the last century.]

Time magazine's "Person of the Century" issue gives a great example of the mendacity of bourgeois journalism.

TIME 'forgot' he was a socialist
Albert Einstein was selected for the honor as representative of "the explosion of scientific and technical knowledge," although a reading of the issue makes clear he won by default; for the real theme of the issue is set out boldly enough in the lead essay, "who mattered and why," under the subtitle, "the century of democracy."

"If you had to describe the century's geopolitics in one sentence," Time says, "it could be a short one: Freedom won. Free minds and free markets prevailed over fascism and communism."

(It probably did not occur to Time's editors that, from the point of view of the vast majority of the human race, this was the century of the anticolonial revolution, an unfinished revolution because although the colonial powers have been driven out, most of these countries remain victims of imperialism through neo colonial regimes and the world market. But never mind.)

One would have thought, then, that the Person of the Century would have been some outstanding political representative of capital; in fact, when Time chose its man of the half century, they picked Winston Churchill, not Einstein, though by then Einstein had already produced the papers that would revolutionize science and the most famous result of his theories, the equivalence between matter and energy, had already been put to practical use in the atom bomb.

And (in my opinion) Churchill is without doubt the outstanding imperialist leader of the century; that fate made him also the last hurrah of a dying empire and not the leader of a rising power makes his achievements in being and important player in World War I, the master imperialist strategist of the winning side in World War II, as well as the progenitor of the Cold War all the more impressive.

But for the American chauvinists at Time, the fact that he was English served to disqualify him; that, and the fact that Churchill was an undisguised racist, male chauvinist, scab-herder and strike breaker. He was, as I said, an outstanding representative of his class, but the capitalist press is nothing if not hypocritical. Time calls him instead "a romantic refugee from a previous era who ended up on the wrong side of history."

So Time's preferred political candidate was Franklin Roosevelt. However, the case for Roosevelt is hard to make. Time recognizes that it was the War Deal, not the New one, that rescued American capitalism from the depression, and, as a war leader, suffice it to say he was incapable of mobilizing the country for a conflict he knew was inevitable until the Japanese devastated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Time introduces a third century theme with their rejection of Churchill, which is that this was "the century of civil rights," by which they mean "the ability of courageous individuals to resist authority in order to secure their civil rights." This theme is of course 100% phony. The 20th Century has been marked, among other things, by the struggles of masses of people against various aspects of capitalist oppression and exploitation. But it was not AT ALL, despite Time's assertion, the result of "courageous individuals" like Mahatma Gandhi (their runner up Person of the Century in this category), Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela.

India and many other colonies won their freedom thanks, not to Gandhi's tactics, but to masses of people the world over taking advantage of the complete exhaustion of the British, French, Belgians, etc., in the Second World War, as is obvious from the fact that Britain lost virtually every one of her other colonies, too. It was the massive upsurge of people all over the semicolonial world, and most powerfully in China, that put an end to direct colonialism.

Gandhi is rejected, ostensibly because he was quite a weird, eccentric bird, but mostly, I believe, because Time's editors choked at even such an indirect and distorted recognition of the power of popular struggles.

Hence Einstein, as representative of the scientific and technological revolution, wound up with the nod. And if you had to pick a seminal scientific figure of this century, certainly Einstein would top most lists, not only for his own accomplishments, but because his theory of relativity, as even Time noticed, reflected the spirit of an age that was rejecting absolute truths and eternal verities.

But in picking Einstein, the Time editors stumbled across a problem. Einstein was certainly a champion of "free minds" which is precisely why he opposed "free markets." He was an enemy of the capitalist witch-hunt, capitalist racism, the capitalist arms race and of capitalism.

His 1949 Monthly Review essay, Why Socialism, was not only an act of tremendous courage in face of the ferocious anticommunist hysteria of those years. It also reveals someone who has thought deeply about social questions, and who was profoundly influenced by another German Jewish professor who also spent his later years in exile, Karl Marx.

Einstein frontally attacks capitalism not just as an irrational system, but an anti-human one, a system which pits human beings against their own creation, society. He lays bare the essence of capitalist exploitation, which is that the capitalist pays for one thing --human labor power-- but receives another, the product of human labor, and thus the worker is forever enriching the capitalist at his own expense.

In its articles on him, Time is effusive in its praise, calling him "the century's greatest thinker" a "genius among geniuses" and so on and so forth. How to deal, then, with this mental Hercules's thoughts about society? Gingerly, of course.

He is described as a "humanist and internationalist" who advocated "gentle pacifism," a "political idealist" with a "deep moral sense" and "humane and democratic instincts" who, towards the end of his life, "was a soft touch for almost any worthy cause." What Time does not say, of course, is that Einstein was a socialist.

Windows 10 changes numbers when it prints them: another reason to dump it for Linux or Windows 7

Media covering computers and technology tend to be industry whores, as their revenue comes from companies in the sector that buy their ads. So when you read a headline like "Windows 10 is possibly the worst spyware ever made," take it to heart. 

But even if being spied on by Redmond doesn't bother you, totally random computer (mis)behavior should. The latest is that Microsoft's new browser somehow has managed to fuck up printing in the worst possible way.

Although perhaps we should have seen that one coming, with Microsoft decreeing that the number that would come after 8 in designating major versions of Windows would be 10. (Somebody flunked the count to ten test in first grade ... and still got to be a top executive of a world-class corporation! Only in America.)

Oh yeah, and when you're through having your mind blown by the changing numbers, take a look at the letters inside the little boxes. And then get this: it affects the Microsoft Edge "print to pdf" function which was the recommended work-around because plain old print wasn't working in Edge when win 10 came out. And, no, it isn't easily and reliably reproducible ... the print output is said to depend on how you have things configured, including what other printers you have,

In computer programming, this is what is technically known as "a clusterfuck" when all sorts of code and functions that have no reason to interact with each other do so with entirely unpredictable results. 

Microsoft is making like they're the CIA, refusing to confirm or deny that the bug exists although they do confess to having received reports of the anomaly. Traditionally, around now I would tell you the exact version of Windows that is affected but since Microsoft crams updates down the throats of Windows 10 users whether you want them or not, the issue is moot. So you will be affected if Microsoft decides to put the bug in your computer and there's nothing you can do about.

Nothing ... except getting rid of Win 10.

One option is to go to Linux, the most popular consumer flavor being Ubuntu. For general consumer or business use it is fine, but not necessarily for specialized professional tools like video editing software. It is free software, and with Ubuntu and several other variants you can download and run it from a disk or USB stick before installing it to see if you think it is for you.

The other option is Windows 7. There have only been two versions of Windows released in this century considered generally acceptable, Windows XP and Windows 7. Windows XP is no longer getting security fixes, so that pretty much leaves Windows 7.

But Microsoft won't sell you Win 7, so don't feel guilty about having to go outside the official distribution channels to get it.

Just search the Pirate Bay to start a download with a bit torrent program. Yes, some downloads have malware, run it through a virus checker before installing. Also make sure win 7 drivers are available for all your hardware. This should be obvious by visiting the computer manufacturer's driver download page for your model. 

Download all that stuff and create a "bootable USB drive" (just Google it for instructions and software). And one more thing. You will also need an activation hack. I prefer "Windows Loader." It might trigger a warning by anti-virus software as a "hack tool." But that's what it is, so it's OK.

If those instructions made sense and didn't give you the willies, you're good-enough with computers to do this on your own. If not, find yourself a high school kid who will do it for a few bucks.

And BTW, when you have hundreds or thousands of people sharing the same program through bit torrent, you can be almost certain it is not malicious software (as most people would view it). Micro$oft, of course, is going to say "theft." I say bullshit. You've already paid for a windows license when you bought the computer, and the real theft was giving you a POS like Win 8 or 10.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How Hollywood studios promote movie piracy on the Internet

It's good to see that despite people's demonstrated willingness to pay for Internet movie access, Hollywood continues to promote the cultural socialism of free Internet sharing of traditional movie theater fare.

The winner in online movies:
not just on price, but selection
Now you'd think someone like me with access to four video streaming services would long ago have abandoned downloading with torrents, but I've found it impossible. Two categories seem to be especially hard to find in the official channels: the most popular and the most highly regarded.

Let me give three recent examples.

  • Return of the King. Turns out none of the LOTR movies are available either on Amazon video or Netflix for streaming. On Amazon you can buy them, on Netflix you can get it on DVD or Blu Ray if you pay extra for those options.
  • Casablanca. It's 75 years old, for fuck's sake, but only if you're lucky will you find an official "legal" stream ... for $4. It's not even on Netflix DVD. But with more than 500 seeds, it takes only a few minutes to arrive with bit torrent. And it's one of four classic MGM best picture winners on a $4.99 DVD from Turner Classic Movies. Go figure!
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. No, not the movie of more recent vintage but the 1979 mini-series where Sir Alec Guinness portrays the weariness of a life-long dutiful functionary who has spent his career amidst the rot of a has-been empire. He is charged with rescuing a spy agency reduced to a disdained junior partner by one of its offspring and played like a Stradivarius in the hands of a maestro by its enemy. He portrays the character with such droll dignity that his victory at the end becomes that much more humiliatingly hollow.
If it were a few masterpieces and a few items from the content most in demand, Hollywood might perhaps get away with it. But when it's the bulk of the inventory, and especially the good stuff, and you split it up among a maddening array of services, what you're telling people is to stick to the Pirate Bay.

Take, for example, Best Picture Oscar winners. Right now on Netflix there are three from this century, and five from the last one. And that includes DVD's, not just streaming.

That not only pisses people off, if you check Amazon and YouTube, you'll see there are only a few available for paid streaming even though on Amazon you'll find 4- and 5- picture collections of Oscar Winners for a Hamilton, and a Turner Classic Movie collection that includes Casablanca for $4.99. (There's a bunch more awesome collections of old MGM classics from Turner).

The Cinema Cartel has yet to learn the lesson that the Music Monopoly Mafia wound up having no choice but to learn (from Steve Jobs, BTW). Which is, make it faster and easier to download and more convenient to play, and cheaper won't matter. Yes there were a handful of holdouts, most prominently the Beatles, but now that they and remaining classic rock holdouts have come on board, Taylor Swift's resistance and Adele's more limited 1-album hold back don't matter.

That's why the competition in on line streaming movies & video has moved to original content, because the traditional studios are doling out their material with an eyedropper and that is not enough to attract subscribers. 

The studios have effectively transformed what started as distribution services like Netflix and Amazon into competitors who are increasingly unwilling to pay top dollar for other people's video when they can use that money to create exclusive content for their subscribers. 

Looking at fake news about insanely high homicide rates in U.S. cities

Univision's web site has a report claiming that four U.S. cities are among those with the highest homicide rates in the world. The statistics are based on FBI reports, but are computed by some group in Mexico despite the insistent and express warning by the FBI against the procedure followed:
The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, counties, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis on their population coverage or student enrollment. (The emphasis is as presented in the original).
Why? Well for one reason, the original source of homicide data is often a coroner's office; but these are frequently county offices. City boundaries are not the same as county ones, and even if the city's police department is the one reporting the figures, these may well be from a broader area.

But even if totally "accurate," using population statistics doesn't work. A city of 300,000 could easily have a million people in it every weekday. And local political subdivisions in the United States are often arbitrary and fragmented.

In Atlanta, where I live, there are --depending on who is counting-- between five and thirty-some counties and scores of cities. These cross county lines, counties divide neighborhoods and your house might be partly in one county, partly in another. Talking about crime rates might be meaningful or might be a discussion involving a completely arbitrary area created a century or more ago for gerrymandering purposes or to exclude Blacks and that we have inherited even though it simply has nothing to do with the real world today.

A Mexican group used to that country's system of municipalities might not understand this, but a journalist in the United States needs to.

This is why the FBI only computes homicide rates for standard metropolitan statistical areas and NOT individual cities or counties, and warns that even state rates may not be meaningful (because major metro areas cross state lines).
I can't imagine that the writer even bothered to check the original source of the information, which took me about three minutes. If he would have done so, in addition to seeing the strongly worded warning not to do what his source was doing, he would have seen that the statistics for the supposedly most dangerous city, St Louis, MO, made absolutely no sense if handled in this way. By that measure, the city of St Louis itself supposedly had a homicide rate of 59.3 in 2015, making it one of the most dangerous in the world. But the metro area had an overall rate of 10.5, a bit high but not extraordinary, and if you calculate the rate for the metro area outside the city limits only, you get 4.3, even lower than the U.S. national average of 4.9 per 100,000 population. It makes no sense that the murder rate drops more than 90% by crossing the street to get outside the city's jurisdiction. I know that data journalism is really hot right now, but it is no substitute for common sense.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sanders: 'Make Democrats a party of the working class, not liberal elite'

On Friday night, March 31, "Our Revolution" and several local activist groups hosted a rally in Boston that was also heavily promoted on line and made available through YouTube.  It was very clearly and sharply a declaration of war on the Democratic Party establishment, with the explicit aim of changing the Democrats from "a party of the liberal elite" into one of the "working class," as Sanders expressed it.

The beginning of a social-democratic party in the USA?
The event started with brief remarks from the local groups that co-sponsored the rally including Latino immigrant rights organizations. They were followed by Elizabeth Warren, who began by saying she was there to introduce Bernie but proceeded to make a very substantial political presentation.

She outlined around 10 platform points: health care as a right; debt-free access to college; a living wage of $15; support and promote unions; protect and expand social security and Medicare; we are a nation of immigrants; Black lives matter; women must control their own bodies and democracy is not for sale. Not sure I got all of them but those were almost all. The one point that I would have expected but did not hear was a call for a public works infrastructure program.
She stressed fighting the Republicans through activism and protests. And she clearly identified as being part of the same movement as Bernie (which she did not do a year ago during the primaries) as well as recognizing his senior status, so to speak. So she was very clearly projected as the second most important leader and spokesperson for the Sanders "Our Revolution" movement, which is a very significant development.
Bernie's speech was a call to qualitatively transform the Democratic Party. "We need a Democratic party that is not a party of the liberal elite but of the working class." And, yes, he said working class.

He emphasizes that Republicans didn't win the last few elections, Democrats lost them by being so out of touch with working people that many ended up voting for Trump even though they disagree with cutbacks in social services and giveaways to the corporations and the rich and favor legalization of the undocumented and single-payer Medicare for all.

He spoke on many of the same issues introduced by Warren, but clearly, the open, brazen call for a fight to take control of the Democratic Party away from neoliberals like the Clintons, Pelosi and Schumer was the central message.

Bernie has now projected "Our Revolution" as, in essence, the start of a different party even while operating in the Democrat framework by counterposing the idea of a working class party to a party of the liberal elite.

A lot of my Marxist friends will say Bernie is crazy in trying to transform  into a working class party this giant political apparatus intimately intertwined with the moneyed class and the state at all levels.  
And some will even say that Bernie is playing the part of the Judas goat leading people back into the two-party-system trap.

I do not believe the latter criticism makes sense politically nor is it fair to Sanders and his friends.

But at any rate, I think that Marxists need to recognize the movement towards something akin to a social-democratic party that the "Our Revolution" faction of the Democratic Party represents, and figure out how to relate to it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#BurnBabyBurn: protesters torch Paraguay's capitol building

The issue is one that has come up time and again in Latin America: the re-election of public officials, especially the President. Now it is Paraguay's turn.

Every flame breaks another chain so burn, baby burn.
From the 1950s until 1992, that country was governed by General Alfredo Stroessner. He took power in a coup and through spurious elections that the OAS never had a problem with, stayed in power for 35 years. 

In 2008, as part of the Latin American "pink tide," Fernando Lugo, a somewhat progressive former Catholic Bishop, was elected president, only to be overthrown by a 2012 parliamentary coup. He was literally charged, impeached, convicted and thrown out of office in less than 24 hours.

Diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks showed right-wingers had been consulting with the U.S. embassy for years about this plot. A 2009 dispatch from the embassy to Foggy Bottom foretold what actually happened as a "dream scenario" of the right:
Find a 'cause celebre' to champion so as to change the current political equation, break the political deadlock in Congress, impeach Lugo and regain ... political relevance.... [The] dream scenario involves legally impeaching Lugo, even if on spurious grounds.
Horacio Corales, of the "Colorados," Stroessner's former party, took over the presidency in 2013 following elections held to legitimize the coup. But now he wants to be re-elected to another five year term so he needs to eliminate the constitutional ban adopted after Stroessner was driven from power.

A clandestine Senate session this week that narrowly okayed the amendment detonated an explosion of rage. And when government forces attacked the crowds, the people seized the capitol building and torched it. 

Complicating the picture, at least as seen from as far away as I am, is that apparently the Lugo supporters backed the amendment so he can run again while some right-wing opponents joined progressives in these protest that wound up offering up in a sacrificial rite the local temple of what has to be biggest con of all times, an American, French, or British style parliament. 

More than half a century ago, Fred Stanton, a revolutionary socialist and singer-songwriter penned a little ditty he titled "Burn, baby burn," after a slogan the mainstream press attributed to participants in the Black urban rebellions of those days.
Several more verses follow this first one in the PDF file.
I don't think it has ever been recorded (except in my memory and perhaps that of a few others who heard it in those tumultuous days) but it was published
(under his pen name) in Broadside magazine, which promoted and spread the protest song movement. And it is now on the Internet.

The verse that sums it all up is the last one that I've copy pasted on the left, but of course, you have to add the chorus:

Burn, baby, burn Burn, baby, burn
Every flame breaks another chain So burn, baby burn

Even back then, a lot of my political associates in the Young Socialist Alliance thought I was an ultraleft maniac because of my instinctive reaction to explosions of rage like this. "Hassan the Assassin" some jokingly called me in the Berkeley YSA. (The YSA was the youth group associated with the Socialist Workers Party. I left the SWP long ago; I believe Fred is still a member).

And I don't even want to think about what these or many other comrades would think of me today: with half a century of experience, I should have learned the wisdom of correct, patient tactics at the service of a long-term strategy. And I think that mostly I have, but not when it comes to cases like this. I would plagiarize Wordsworth to explain myself only changing a word or two:

My heart leaps up when I behold
   Flames that climb into the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
It would have to be Wordsworth because his verses about the years of the French Revolution capture my own sentiment about the the privilege of growing up in the 1960s: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!"

And I will not turn my back on the 60s, not the love and not the rage,

I think it is a good thing, a wonderful thing, for politicians to be reminded that if they game their "democratic" processes to defy popular sentiment, when the people finally get fed up with it, they have other ways of enforcing their will. #BurnBabyBurn